before you debrand – consider this…

I read an article from Fast Company this morning. It’s all about how ‘debranding’ is the future of branding. It’s an insightful piece, smart and forward-thinking. Overall I actually kind of like it. BUT. I don’t really agree with it. Respectfully, I have some counters…

I do however, agree with two big points – that social media has made advertising “more treacherous for brands that try too hard,” AND that “we’ve reached the saturation point.”

In other words, there’s a lot of noise and crap out there. Absolutely. But, there is also a lot of really well-done, value-adding, important pieces of branded content floating about. It’s actually not all bad, misleading or just buzzy.

What about establishing an emotional connection to your brand, the philosophical attraction that develops into long term giving a shit in an age of up and coming purchasers that care more and more about what a brand is all about versus just the products they sell? Hard to do that with just new minimalistic packaging. The article assumes that basically all native advertising has a top goal of only leading directly to a sale or transaction right then and there, or at least that how it comes across. Native content builds a relationship. It can have many different purposes. I often compare native advertising to dating. You court the consumer over time, with great stories that they care about; keep them engaged.

The article also assumes that all products are petty much bad now. Not made well. That if we turn that around, everything will then be fixed, including brands. If I’m missing something, please guide me here. That’s how I interpreted it.

Also, the article takes something very strategic and over-simplifies it by making an argument like “shoes or coffee can never live up to their brands’ promises—they are just shoes and coffee.” OK, when you look at it that way, sure. But that’s basically turning a shoulder to why much of these stories and content are created. Data. Known behavior and consumer desires. Actual reasons for doing what brands do. This makes it sound like a shoe brand is just taking a shot in the dark about something random and trying to over-promise and under-deliver. Spraying and praying. A little bit of an unfair argument based on little context.

Native advertising and branded content by and large came to life while chasing consumer behavior. The amount of digital content, storytelling, listicles, memes, etc, etc consumed is immense. It IS a form of communication. It has become part of an expectation from consumers. Brands have just been playing the field, reaching their people where and how they want to be reached. It’s not like brands just decided to start writing longform stories about other things than their brand to be annoying. Or producing brilliant videos or web series about things that matter to their customers because they want to con everyone. That’s a bit harsh.

Especially generation z, whose primary focuses are experiences, personalization and  values. Native storytelling is one of the most effective ways to hit that group with things that matter to them.

It’s what this type of content does to the brain after the fact that’s important. It makes people remember, in a way different than just a product or price. It’s deeper. The best pieces of native advertising that I’ve consumed over the years, I’ve never forgotten, and I still now have a stronger connection to those brands, because they entertained me, educated me, moved me. It made me care. It’s the part of branding and advertising that can’t as easily be given a “this worked” value, which drives analytics folks and leadership nuts (totally get it), but it also can’t be written off – the full attribution of how this impacts the consumers’ brain must not be ignored.

If you’re looking to sell, sell, sell, then sure – native advertising might not be the best use of dollars, time and effort, and it might be totally wrong for your audience and consumers. I hate saying this phrase, but “it all depends.” Every brand and situation is so different. Native advertising definitely does not and should not work for every consumer brand or purpose, but we also shouldn’t just write it off as a “sham.” That creates a very short-sighted argument and position that in my opinion is kind of missing the point.

Thinking about it more, I actually kind of love the article from Fast Company now. It got me to hop on the computer to react. Really, it’s a solid look into branding today, content and native advertising. I fully understand their argument, but I challenge back to think beyond only the direct sale, and the why behind why brands do what they do without just attacking them as shams and cons.



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